When I was doing the legwork, passing out flyer after flyer to attract members to my town’s new Tolkien discussion society, I was surprised at how many of those willing to post a flyer followed up by suggesting that I read George R.R. Martin’s multi-volume series A Song of Ice and Fire. If I love Tolkien, they must have reasoned, I must love very long stories, especially those that contain medieval and fantastic elements. A Song of Ice and Fire must have seemed like my perfect match. I did not embrace the suggestion as enthusiastically as expected but, then again, it took me years to commit to reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. It seemed a bit too risky. Reading a massive series, chock-full of descriptive passages, wandering perhaps becoming lost, heading somewhere but no one knows where, it can feel a lot like falling in love.
Every time I have given myself over to the promise of a new relationship, I have known that I could end up alone again with the feeling that I had wasted far too much of my precious time. I have never quite managed to leap into love with the simple intention of seeing where the adventure takes me. I want to know, based on the blurb on the back of the book, that the story will not ramble, the author’s attention to consistency will not lag and the characters will go on surprising me without leaving me wondering if I ever really knew them at all. In love and in literature, I like to have a guarantee that I am giving my heart to a worthy companion, one who will remain with me for life. It turns out that The Lord of the Rings and I have been happy together for many years now while I suspect that my relationship with A Song of Ice and Fire will constitute more of a fling but I am not sorry that I was willing to let myself go.
I am not sorry that I was grazed by the finale of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, bruised by the final episode of Lost, confused and slightly sickened by Star Trek: Nemesis, cruelly jilted by the cancellation of Firefly and, well, I am not sure that I know how to describe the state I was in after waiting on line for hours to see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. My heart was broken but it has mended and is stronger now than it ever was.
In 1961, C.S. Lewis published a brief but revolutionary manual for those who love to read. He called it An Experiment in Criticism. He claimed that there are those who will use a work of fiction—for a Casanova-style thrill, to impress their colleagues or to squeeze a little experience and wisdom out of it—and there are those who will receive a work of fiction for its own sake almost as an act of love. “The first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you surrender, you cannot possibly find out.)”
Is the experience I am entering into when I turn to that first page or switch on that first episode worthy of me? Am I worthy of it? Do you remember “Q-who?” the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the obnoxious Q first introduces the crew of the Enterprise to the relentless Borg? Q promises the crew a galaxy containing “wonders you cannot possibly imagine and terrors to freeze the soul.” He adds, “we’ll just have to see how ready you are.” They were not ready or, at least, not ready enough to avoid the destruction, death and loss of humanity the Borg would bring, but they continued on. They went right on exploring, right on into the unknown. In spite of their painful loss of innocence, they turned the next page because what choice did they have, really? The Story finds us all eventually whether we boldly go or stand and wait but I believe that we enjoy it more when we do not hold ourselves back.
Now, can anyone recommend my next few thousand pages or a Season One that introduces a convoluted story arc with an epic scope? It feels like it is time to be getting on with things. In the words of another great character from a seemingly endless tale, “Allons-y!”